Howard Dean is a man of many titles. You can call him Governor Dean, or Chairman Dean, or even ex-presidential candidate Dean. But the one title which qualifies him to be named as Secretary of Health and Human Services is Doctor Dean. Now that Tom Daschle has withdrawn from consideration (due to a few tax problems), Howard Dean should be first on the list of possible appointees.
I admit that I've long been a big fan of Dean's "50-state strategy" (and the results thereof). When his successor as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee was announced last month, I summed up why Democrats should thank Howard Dean for his accomplishments:
It is no exaggeration to say that when Dean took over, he faced a Katrina-like disaster in the party's organization. Dean will leave behind three legacies that are not as easy to see as the raw numbers in Congress, though. The first is how he schooled Democrats on how to use the internet to raise money. This leads to hope that the Democrats will rediscover the average American as the party's most valuable supporter, and show that Big Business and their legions of lobbyists are not the only way to raise money anymore. Lots of money.
And the second is the ground game. Dean modernized the party so it could once again communicate effectively with the voters. You can have the best political ideas in the world, but if you don't get the warm bodies in the voting booth in support, you will lose the election. The Democrats had suffered through decades of being out-organized on the ground, but Dean turned it around so that the Democratic GOTV (Get Out The Vote) effort is now looked at with naked envy by Republicans themselves. That's a pretty stunning turnaround.
The last of Dean's legacies is, of course, is his 50-state strategy. Dean realized that if you keep playing only to your base, in your "safe" states, you will never expand your party or your party's electoral map. Dean put money into states Democrats didn't even dream of winning in previously, and it has started to pay big dividends. Barack Obama took Indiana, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, and other states that used to be considered hopelessly Republican. Dean took a lot of heat from some Democrats for pumping money into congressional races in "red" states, but a quick look at how many Democrats have been elected from those states shows that Dean knew what he was doing.
But -- even putting all of that aside -- Dean's credentials for the job of HHS Secretary are undeniable. Tom Daschle, an early supporter of Obama, was slated for this job for one reason -- to take the lead in overhauling our broken health care system. Howard Dean is the perfect man to take up this challenge. Not only does he have the unique perspective on health care from his time as governor of Vermont (where he was highly successful at improving the rate of coverage of his citizens), but he and his wife (also a medical doctor) ran a private practice. So he's not going to be swayed by a bunch of lobbyists claiming to speak for any part of the health care system. Dean has personal experience with the system and he has helped partially reform one state's system already, both of which are more than even Daschle could say.
So if he's the perfect candidate, why is this even a contentious issue, you might wonder. Well, there is some history between Dean and Rahm Emanuel, who is now President Obama's Chief of Staff. When Dean was running the DNC, Rahm was in charge of the DCCC (the House group in charge of getting Democrats elected). Howard Dean was not universally supported by many Democrats as DNC chair, including congressional leaders and former Clinton supporters. His 50-state strategy was ridiculed by those who felt a traditional "battleground state" mentality was the way to go. Rather than send money to Democratic organizations in states Democrats had given up on (their argument went), spend it on only a handful of close, key races instead. Since Dean was in charge of handing out DNC money, and Emanuel was in charge of handing out House Democratic money, the two clashed on ideology.
The 2006 election largely proved Dean right and Emanuel wrong. This only widened the rift between them, it was rumored. When Dean's successor was named last month, Obama did so while Dean was away on a Pacific U.S. territory (fulfilling a pledge he made to visit every state and territory as DNC chair). They reportedly blindsided Dean with the scheduling of the formal announcement, rudely denying him the chance to be present as his successor was named. But Obama did say at the ceremony: "For nearly four years, Howard has served our party and our nation as a visionary and effective leader. He launched a 50-state strategy that made Democrats competitive in places they had not been in years, working with my chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to give Democrats a majority in the House for the first time in over a decade. Having steered the Democratic Party through two successful elections, Howard deserves enormous credit for helping usher in a new era in Washington."
And now Howard Dean needs a job. So it's convenient that one just opened up -- one that Dean is eminently qualified to fill (assuming he's paid up on his taxes). President Obama has made headlines for his "team of rivals" cabinet, including Republicans and even his opponent in the bitter primary fight, Hillary Clinton. It is time for President Obama to bury the hatchet (or perhaps, for Obama to tell Emanuel to bury the hatchet) and do what is best for the country by naming Howard Dean as his nominee for HHS Secretary. Dean is the perfect person to fight for Obama's goal of universal health care. If Obama can put up with Clinton and Gates and Chairman Lieberman in the Senate, then he can surely invite one more rival into the team.
To put it simply, President Obama needs to add another honorific to the list Howard Dean already deserves -- Secretary Dean.
-- Chris Weigant